Conversation Starters: 5 Easy Ways to Get People Talking
5 min read
Conversation is an exchange of ideas, usually informal, through spoken language between two or more people. It’s often social, frequently includes humor, and rarely stays on the same topic for very long. Turns overlap, the focus shifts among the participants, and everyone shares and listens to varying degrees.
In a positive conversational interaction, we make eye contact with our partners, but we don’t stare obsessively. We nod along, giving verbal indications that we understand (“Mm-hmm,” “Oh, yeah?” “Oh, no!” “Wow!”). Our body language conveys our interest. We don’t interrupt too often—we await our turn to contribute a reaction, anecdote, or opinion, to keep the conversation moving forward. We use language appropriate to the individuals and the setting, refraining from swearing with certain audiences while letting loose with others.
Sometimes these skills, called social skills or pragmatics, are lost, such as after a brain injury. Sometimes they’re never fully acquired—often the case in autism. When this happens, conversational skills must be taught.
Aside from social skills, a conversation requires that participants articulate words intelligibly, speak as fluently as possible, use clear, audible voices, and put the right words together into clear ideas. Many people, such as those living with aphasia, dysarthria, stuttering, or apraxia, have difficulty in one or more of these areas.
Speech-language therapy can help with these deficits. The goal is to improve the problem or to provide strategies to work around it.
Sometimes just starting a conversation can be one of the most challenging parts of therapy. Aside from the five easy conversation starters listed below, we also created an app that can help. Try the no-risk free version for yourself.
Here are 5 conversation starters:
Ask About the Other Person
We all like to talk about ourselves.
Why not start the conversation by asking your conversational partners about themselves? What do they enjoy? Where have they lived or travelled? What are their families like? People are experts in themselves, and often enjoy showing off that expertise.
Conversation Therapy provides more than 300 ‘Remember’ questions to prompt people to talk about their experiences and memories.
Ask for More Information
Once you find a topic someone is excited about, keep going. Ask to hear more about the subject.
Ask probing questions such as “How did you get into [career]?” or “What’s the best part of [interest]?” The more interest you show, the more they’ll keep talking.
Conversation Therapy gets the conversation started. But a conversation isn’t a series of questions and answers, so let the conversation go where it wants to, coming back to the app only when you need more inspiration.
Ask for Help or Advice
Most people like to help others, especially when it makes them feel knowledgeable.
Ask your conversational partner what you should do about a social situation or a home repair problem. Ask for a good recipe. What you ask, of course, will depend on who you’re talking with.
Conversation Therapy offers many topics related to everyday life, including more than 50 pertaining to safety and problem solving. These questions provide great opportunities to share strategies, experiences, and expertise.
Ask for an Opinion
Everyone has an opinion. So ask for it!
What does your partner think of sushi? What’s their take on the latest blockbuster? Do they prefer cats or dogs?
Discussing favorite and least-favorite things can help you find shared interests you can explore further.
Conversation Therapy provides more than 300 Decide questions. You can prompt people to share their preferences with questions like “Would you rather . . . ?” and “What’s your favorite . . . ?”
Comment on Current Events
After the obligatory comments about the weather, it’s time to try something a bit more interesting and every bit as topical.
Not everyone follows the latest political affairs, but local news, Hollywood gossip, or sporting events may be an area ripe for conversation. Many speech-language pathologists have had to scan the sports sections of newspapers and websites to prepare for sessions with football-, hockey-, or baseball-obsessed clients.
Conversation Therapy includes hot topics related to social issues and problems, as well as current topics such as the environment, the economy, and health care.
General Tips for Conversation Starters
Be sure your questions are open-ended. You don’t want to be shut down with a simple “yes” or “no.” Your questions should start with a wh- type word (who, what, where, why, when, how) rather than with a do/did/are/have/were-type word.
Once you get your partner or client talking, you can make observations, suggest strategies, shape better habits, and work on sounds, words, and syntactic structures.
Be sure to take your own brief turns in the conversation, sharing your experiences and thoughts while modeling the behaviors you’re looking to improve in your partner. Just be careful you don’t dominate the conversation!
If you tend to get lost in the content of conversation, set up a data-tracking method ahead of the session, to keep yourself focused on the goal. Subtly make tick marks or use an app to tally a predetermined behavior or linguistic target. You’ll end up with an enjoyable session, as well as outcome data to document your partner’s progress.
Conversation Therapy has built-in scoring to track data during a conversation. Turn off the sound for the scoring buttons, to avoid disrupting the conversational flow.
Giving feedback during a conversation can be tricky, since the client may feel you’re commenting on the quality of their ideas rather than their speech or skills. Be sure to establish the goals of the conversation before starting, and positively acknowledge the content before drawing attention to the manner in which it was said.
If you follow these simple tips, you’ll have a new problem to worry about – how to get your clients to stop talking!